BeachReachers minister to spring break crowds

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Another year of BeachReach has come and gone, with 625 college students witnessing God's touch in the lives of college students from across the United States.

Students from campuses across the country ministered on the Panama City, Fla., beaches during the month of March, recording 106 students' professions of faith and 23 decisions to rededicate their lives to Christ.

Christy Ridings, event coordinator for adult enrichment events at LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, said she was "both encouraged and challenged by the students," as they responded to the challenge of sharing the message of Christ with their peers in Panama City.

"Their ability to turn a conversation about the Final Four into a conversation about eternal salvation served as a reminder to me to use every opportunity I am given to grow the kingdom," Ridings said.

Each year the BeachReachers offer free van rides to college students at the beach and serve a free pancake breakfast every day.

The vans are available for anyone who wants a ride. Ridings said each campus group that goes to BeachReach to minister is asked to bring a van to use in the "ministry of the free ride." Some Baptist Campus Ministry groups have their own van. Others bring a church van, and some will rent a van for the week. This year 8,361 van rides were given.

"We had students who would call and say, 'I want a ride on the Jesus van,'" Ridings said. "That was a pretty cool thing, to be called the Jesus van. But we were. We had a lot of students who requested rides from us."

The pancake breakfast, Ridings said, is always a big draw.

The owner of the Sunset Restaurant on the beach has allowed the BeachReach group to use his restaurant for the breakfast for years, Ridings said. "Since the restaurant is only open for dinner, he generously lets us use it for our breakfast," she recounted. "We served 11,494 breakfasts this year."

The disaster relief team from the Georgia Baptist Convention set up and cooked all the breakfasts.

"These folks were great," Ridings said. "They arrived early every morning and cooked thousands of pancakes. We appreciate them so much."

Just between the van rides and pancake breakfasts, almost 20,000 opportunities were presented for the students to hear the gospel. This number doesn't include the hundreds of students and conversations that BeachReacher Street Teams encountered, she said.

"This generation is crying out for the hope that comes from a relationship with Christ, and deep down they know it," Ridings said. "I can't tell you the number of students who climbed on the vans for a free ride or came to the pancake breakfast for a free meal and opened up their lives to anyone who would listen."

Buddy Young, then Baptist Student Union director at Alvin Community College, started BeachReach in 1980 at South Padre Island, Texas.

Young, who is now Baptist Collegiate Ministry director at West Texas A&M, is still reaching out to students at South Padre Island, Ridings said. "Buddy Young is really the one who started this whole program. He deserves a lot of credit for the vision he has for students."

For more information about BeachReach 2002 and for suggestions on involvement by campuses for BeachReach2003, contact Ridings at or at (615) 251-2067. (BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at Photo titles: POWERED BY PRAYER, THE PLACE OF PANCAKES and DAY'S END.

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